A lovingly cruel Irish community is the sturdy centre of the hilarity and poignancy of Martin McDonagh’s dark comedy The Cripple of Inishmaan, set to hit the stage at Sydney’s Old Fitz Theatre this July.
Set in the Depression era on a remote and sparsely populated Aran Island whose townspeople become archetypal busybodies with an every-man-for-himself mentality. For director Claudia Barrie, the play’s portrayal of a world full of grisly gossip conveys hope of redemption even for the deeply flawed.
“Watching this and seeing these characters be so oblivious to ... what power their words can have on someone is so relevant today,” Ms Barrie said. “The characters are very cruel and harsh to each other but ... when they show those moments of love and allow those cracks of vulnerability through, its incredibly touching.”
Barrie is multi-talented, a director, producer, actor, teacher, and keen roller derby skater, and has committed all her skills to giving The Cripple of Inishmaan another life. While it dishes out darkness in spades, the comedy of the play’s genre is never forgotten. It is filled with uniquely Irish everyday absurdities. A mother berating her daughter for breaking a carton of eggs is met with a point-blank clarification: “I didn’t drop them eggs at all. I went pegging them at Father Barratt, got him bang in the gob”.
McDonagh’s classic, written after his breakthrough Leenane trilogy, has enjoyed successful runs on world stages over the last two decades, perhaps most famously on London’s West End starring Daniel Radcliffe (of Harry Potter fame), but the new Red Line iteration offers a unique point of difference.
For the first time, the protagonist ‘Cripple’ Billy, who longs to leave Inishmaan and its taunts behind to become a Hollywood star, will be played by an actor with a disability, 17-year-old Canberra native William Rees.
Rees, whose left arm is paralysed, has been vocal about the absence of people with disabilities in the arts.
“Our young actor William Rees has a birth injury ... he’s left school to come up here and do this production, that’s how passionate he is,” Ms Barrie said. “The character of Billy is like that as well, he overcomes so much in his life.”
Ms Barrie hoped the show would hit audiences like a punch to the stomach, and its twist-of-fate ending may do just that.
The Cripple of Inishmaan will open on July 11 and run until August 10.